For years, travellers have been drawn to online sites like Expedia, Travelocity, Orbitz and Priceline to find and reserve hotel rooms, flights and rental cars. Hotels welcomed the system — or at least learned to live with it — even though the business came at the cost of substantial commissions. But now they are fighting back. With the online giants consolidating and potentially tightening their hold on travel bookings, major hotel chains are offering a host of benefits to lure travellers to book with them directly: digital check-in, free meals, Wi-Fi and even the ability to choose a specific room. At the same time, the industry has been outspoken with regulators this year in an attempt to block a merger of two of the largest online booking companies, Expedia and Orbitz.
The financial stakes are high. Cutting out the intermediary not only saves on commissions, but also puts the hotel chains in direct communication with their guests. That translates to building profiles of preferences and spending habits to help attract guests on future trips. Competing against online travel agencies on price alone is not easy. A traveller might assume that hotels could offer lower rates to guests who book directly. But generally they are barred from doing so, both by their contracts with the online booking sites and by government regulators that enforce price transparency for published rates. “Many times there is a rate-parity clause, which is designed so they can’t undercut the online travel agencies, and vice versa,” said Naved Khan, senior vice president for Internet equity research at Cantor Fitzgerald. “So this fight is not really about pricing. It’s about sweetening the pot with other benefits.”
The perks of staying at the Lodge at Sea Island Golf Club - just off southeastern Georgia’s Atlantic coast and pictured above – include private butlers and access to three legendary golf courses; there is a marsh and St Simon’s Sound views as well as a roaming bagpiper in the evenings. Suites and living rooms are more than 1,000 square feet, with plush oriental rugs and soaking tubs in the bathrooms. Alternatively you could try the Hotel Lungarno in Florence pictured below where lush interiors by the famous Ferragamo fashion family warm up this jasmine-covered medieval stone tower. You should consider a Junior Suite for access to a private, river-facing terrace.
Hilton has introduced a number of services for guests who book directly, including a digital check-in option that eliminates waiting in line. Quickly adopted by its customers, the app is now used by over one million people each month, according to Geraldine Calpin, who oversees Hilton’sworldwide digital efforts. Hilton also offers direct-booking guests the ability to choose their exact room, a feature similar to an airplane’s seat-map function. “The guest can see the plan of each floor and click on the room they want,” Ms. Calpin said. Loyalty programs also help steer consumers toward booking directly with hotels, with rewards points and “elite” level benefits like concierge lounges, free meals and upgrades.
Expedia has been on a takeover binge this year: In January, it snapped up Travelocity, for $280 million, and last year it acquired a popular Australian site, Wotif.com. Its proposed takeover of Orbitz for a whopping $1.3 billion would give the combined company control of roughly 75 percent of the entire domestic market for third-party online booking, according to the research firm Phocuswright, potentially giving it enormous leverage over the commissions that hotels pay for their listings. Expedia is vigorously defending its deal. The company says it believes regulators should take a broader view of online travel sites, defining the market as including dozens of sites where consumers can search for rooms, but not book them. “The $1.3 trillion global travel market is more fiercely competitive than ever, as evidenced by the sheer number of ways in which people shop for and book travel,” said Sarah Gavin, Expedia’s head of communications. “We compete with a host of regional and global online and offline travel agencies, meta-search sites such as TripAdvisor and Google Hotel Finder, search sites like Google and Bing, and the travel suppliers themselves, who are aggressively seeking to induce consumers to book directly with them.”
Finally there is the Le Bristol in Paris is pictured below. After a lengthy $130 million facelift, the new hotel now enhances its stunning Eiffel tower views with floor-to-ceiling windows. The Epicure restaurant, of three Michelin stars, has been completely redone with romantic two-tops overlooking the leafy courtyardyou’re your budget can afford it, ascend to the Panoramic Suite (you’ll recognize the 2,150-square-foot space from Woody Allen’s Midnight in Paris) for French master paintings, a private gym, and a white and lavender bedroom that has been graced by Owen Wilson and Rachel McAdams.
It was not clear just how many of our Members were off travelling to the Lodge at Sea Island or Le Bristol in Paris, but there were still 12 + 1/2 Tables who turned up for our regular Club Night on Wednesday evening. You can read all about it in the Report by clicking on the "Competitions" tab in the Menu to the left of this box. Alternatively you can study the full Leaderboard and the individual Travellers by clicking on the "Latest Result" button at the top right of this page. Finally all the Competition tables have been updated to include the latest Results including last night's. You can access these by clicking on the "Competitions" tab and again on the individual Competitions.